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Just a pretty picture?

(post, Trisha Coffman)

Nothing makes me want to cook something daring and complicated than does reading that such activity is still in peril. I thought we were cooking more frequently during these tough economic times in America, but to hear the New York Times' Kim Severson tell it (reporting from the International Home & Housewares Show in Chicago), we still equate “cooking” with pushing a button or turning a dial. Or at least that’s the definition that appliance and gadget manufacturers are going for.

The author and culinary historian Betty Fussell is worried that another kind of button –- the one that powers up a computer –- is getting in the way of our cooking. She writes in the current issue of Gastronomica that we’re all so caught up in clicking through and critiquing the glut of photos and videos of food on the Internet, that we’re distancing ourselves from all of food’s other sensory experiences.

And it’s probably true –- I know I've gazed at more prettily confected cupcakes on the web than I've actually baked. Maybe I do need to spend more time swiping sweet finger-fuls of cake batter or letting  my girls mix up too many colors of icing. But if anything, regarding what other cooks and bakers are putting together in their own kitchens, before all the thoughtful posing and photographing, inspires me to get cooking in mine. It’s not just a well-lit shot of golden flatbread; it’s a suggestion that there’s satisfaction to be had requiring action on my part –- not just in slathering finished flatbread with hummus, but in learning how to get that chewy mouthful from a precise heap of flour, some water, salt and perhaps a little olive oil.

Making food and eating the food we’ve made will always be a far more fulfilling human experience than sifting through a worldwide web of food photography. For me, that fulfillment always reaches completeness when I share it with others –- first with the people across from me at the table, the ones whose nightly job it is to put forks at each place and fill the water glasses, who tell me what they like –- or don’t –- about the soup in between dissertations on the worthlessness of math or who chased whom at recess.

Then, every now and then, I share what we eat with the world. I’d rather do it with words than with my own lousy photography, but either way it’s less about show-and-tell and more about speaking up, about adding my voice and my passion to the broad conversation we’re having about food. I don't want to just tell you what I made for brunch, but I want to tell you about it. All of our breathless blogging and picture posting isn't in itself detrimental to the art of eating. It's just another way of expressing that food is so much more than food.